The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Employers with 15 or more employees are covered by the ADA. Qualified individuals include applicants for employment and employees. A person with a disability includes anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a one or more major life activity, has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.
Congress is considering limiting the definition of disability to a physical or mental impairment leaving out the impact of a major life activity. Proponents of S.1881/H.R. 3195, the ADA Restoration Act believe this bill will restore the original intent of the ADA.
Case law has narrowed the effect of the ADA. As recently as January 2008 in Popejoy v. Cass County Commissioners, an Indiana maintenance employee’s ADA case failed because his medication- controlled sleep apnea did not limit any major life activity.
The proposed bill will cover many more employees. Further, it shifts the burden of proof from the employee to the employer. Aside from contacting your legislators, employers need to determine the purpose (essential functions) of each employee’s job. Not only is this good business practice, it will determine what qualifications are necessary to perform the job.
Employers should be able to communicate each job’s main purpose in terms of outcome. This approach demonstrates an openness for alternative methods to fulfill the job’s responsibilities. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals.
How the jobs fit within the organization may be part of the essential functions if staffing levels are important. Mental abilities, psychomotor skills and physical effort may be listed if required to carry out the essential functions. Focusing on essential job functions, the job’s results provide a tool for employers to determine who qualifies for the job. It also serves as a guide for the qualified person with a disability and the employer during the reasonable accommodation process.
The first step is engaging the qualified individual in an open discussion about alternative methods to accomplish the essential functions of the position. Agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation are valuable assets. A tax credit up to $5000 per year is available to eligible employers for accommodations made to comply with the ADA. Employers may obtain a full tax deduction up to $15,000 per year for expenses related to removing architectural or transportation barriers.
ADA Myth Busters